Skip to content

Driving influences in Auto design through the years

Posted in Posts, and Syllabus Schedule

On our trip to visit Ford’s design center, we had the chance to meet with J Mays, the Chief Creative Officer at Ford Motor Company, who offered us a wealth of knowledge about his influential role at Audi, Volkswagen, and now Ford.

He noted that the nature of changing automotive designs throughout the year was based more upon the culture and lifestyle values, which are shared and reflected in all the cars from a particular decade.

As Mr. Mays stated, the shared design features which produced cars which are iconic of their decade are an effect of the general notion of the decade because the culture and lifestyles of a certain decade dictate car design.

Prior to learning this, I assumed the reason we have, for example cars produced during the 1960s which look uniquely like “60s cars” was due to either a Fad-Follower relationship between car designers in which industry leaders set the standards for car design trends which slowly percolate through the other car manufacturers through a given time period, or requirements mandated by public policy such as fuel efficiency, and safer, lighter and more compact cars, etc.

Although I am sure that the need for cars that adhere to stricter safety and fuel efficiency standards is a main component, I was surprised to learn that cars actually are a reflection of culture and lifestyle of a particular era.


  1. oliver

    Style says a lot about the culture of the time. Many American cars from the 50’s have styling taken from jets, reflecting the highest technology of the age and the aspirations of the people. Cars like the GM LeSabre concept and the 59′ Cadillac Eldorado that we saw in the Henry Ford Museum and the are prime examples of period design.

    May 14, 2013
  2. gjeong

    I also want to add that the culture of the time influences car design significantly. Design from each car company or nation has its own strong cultural identity, reflected in the exterior and interior designs of the car. I want to say, in some aspects, car design is considered as “art.”

    May 14, 2013
  3. I’m sure that there are cars that are following a fad, or a hit vehicle. As we noted in class, everyone came out with a minivan after Chrysler’s proved a hit. I suppose there was styling to them (I recall a super ugly GM product, built on a truck frame so it drove like a truck). But my sense is that the segment dominated not styling.

    May 15, 2013
  4. kuveke

    I don’t know cars, well I didn’t know anything before this class, but I can still tell when I think a car looks cool or not. The problem is that there is a key element more important than style and thats value. A car can look as cool as the designer wants but in the end of the day the majority of consumer’s will still check the price tag. That’s why successful design should make a consumer think the car is worth $10,000-$20,000 more than it says on the price tag. The Ford Fusion encapsulates style that makes the consumer feel the value of the car. Regardless of the style of the time consumers will always look for value.

    May 15, 2013
  5. tyler

    I think everyone is right in this regard. Cars are, as Mr. Mays suggests, a reflection of culture. However, cars are also a reflection of each other. Design is cultural, copying design is economics. With chryslers Minivan they essentially had a monopoly on the market, they were making a positive economic profit on their vehicle that was reflecting the current culture. Competitors saw that profit and entered the industry themselves.

    May 17, 2013

Comments are closed.